Steven Gonzalez Monserrate is a PhD Candidate in the History, Anthropology, Science, Technology & Society (HASTS) program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His dissertation project, “Cloud Ecologies”, is an ethnographic study of data centers and their ecological impacts in New England, Arizona, Puerto Rico, and Iceland. Steven holds an MA in Anthropology from Brandeis University and a BA in Feminist Anthropology from Keene State College. Steven is also a filmmaker and speculative fiction writer (under the byline E.G. Condé).
The Cloud is a sociotechnical system, a meshwork of computing infrastructures and the technicians who maintain them. Since 2015, I have studied data centers ethnographically in New England, Arizona, Iceland, and Puerto Rico. My research investigates the rising environmental impacts of data centers (carbon emissions, water footprints, noise pollution, electronic waste) and the wider political, economic, and cultural ecologies in which they occur. Some of the major themes that I write and think about include:
- Masculinity & Gender in Tech
- Emergent Linguistic Formations
- Maintenance as Care Work
- Infrastructure & Environment
- Sustainability & Waste
“The cloud is as anthropogenic as it is technological, as emotional as it is logical, as physical as it is virtual, and as embodied as it is ethereal.”– Steven Gonzalez Monserrate, “People of the Cloud”, AEON (2022)
Speculative Fiction as Method
What is the promise of speculative fiction as a method for social theorists and activists? How can scholars apply their critical lenses and research data to the imagination of more just societies?
I attempt to answer some of these questions in my experimental scholarship and creative practices. I have written a short work of speculative fiction called, “Silicon Fox“, based on my ethnographic fieldwork in Icelandic data centers. Inspired by the thermodynamic imaginaries of cloud technicians in New England data centers, I created an ethnographic sculpture using a 3d printer and modeling clay. I also worked collaboratively with a team of scholars to create an experimental speculative film called “World Without Clouds“, with a companion syllabus for classroom instruction.
“In this warming epoch that earth scientists have named the ‘Anthropocene,’ in which climate models anticipate cataclysmic climate futures, speculation is no longer the sole province of fiction writers. The survival of civilization now hinges on our collective capacities to envision and realize a sustainable future.”– Steven Gonzalez Monserrate, “The Cloud is Material”, MIT SERC Case Studies (2022)